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Brennan backs Conlon to excel

DUBLIN centre-back Ger Brennan has backed his clubmate Paul Conlon to live up to the white-hot pace of championship football when he makes his Leinster debut in tomorrow's semi-final against Kildare.

Conlon, a member of the 2008 All-Ireland club-winning St Vincent's side, hasn't played at all for Dublin this year due to injuries, so the decision to parachute him into the corner-back vacancy left by Philly McMahon's injury represents something of a gamble by the management.

Eyebrows were also raised yesterday at Pat Gilroy's decision to return full-forward Eoghan O'Gara to his starters, considering that he missed out on a lot of spring football through suspension.

The Dublin management have also jettisoned Barry Cahill, who has done such a big job for them in midfield this season, in favour of Denis Bastick.

The selection of Conlon, in particular, has come out of left-field, considering his complete absence of game-time, but Brennan says Conlon shouldn't disappoint.

"He's a great bit of stuff. In our internal training games, lads would be getting stuck into each other and Paul's come out on top most of the time," he revealed. "He's been marking Bernard Brogan in most of our sessions and he's been doing a great job, there's not many lads around the country that can say that.

"He was unlucky last year -- played the guts of the league games and was fairly solid. He missed out on the championship start and he has battled injuries for the last six months. But anything he does, training with the club or playing for the club or for Dublin, he gives it his all."

Tomorrow's clash with Kildare has rekindled some unwanted memories for Brennan of the 2009 Leinster final. He looks a bit sheepish when reminded of how he was sent off after punching Ken Donnelly just 18 minutes into their last big clash.

"I've moved on from that now," he said, admitting that "at the time I was very disappointed with myself."

Brennan had a reputation for having a short fuse, but is noticeably more tempered in his approach these days and admits that the 2009 incident was a seminal one in his development.

"I kind of shot myself in the foot really by doing that. I was young, a bit hot-headed, but you learn from these things. I learnt to keep my hands in my pockets and keep to myself and concentrate on playing football. That's what I've tried to do since that incident.

"Thank God the boys put it together. I was very relieved afterwards because I'd have been even more annoyed with myself had we lost," he admitted.

That relief was doubled because he knew quite a few of the Kildare players personally, having lived there while doing a degree and Masters at NUI Maynooth.

On one occasion when the Lilywhites beat Dublin in the Leinster U-21 championship, Brennan actually ended up marking his college room-mate Padraig Golden.

And he has played third-level football alongside several of their current seniors, like Karl Ennis, young Conor Murphy and 'keeper Shane Connolly.

Brennan has also come up close and personal with Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney from the Armagh man's time playing club football in Dublin with Na Fianna. "I would have always looked up to him playing in the centre-back position, I was in awe of him when Armagh won the All-Ireland in 2002," he said. "He was a great leader and the attributes he had as a player, he's certainly taken them into his management style. He's stamped that doggedness and toughness on Kildare."

Meanwhile, former Dublin great Ciaran Whelan has declared himself as "a bit baffled" by Gilroy's latest selection and has been particularly critical of the choice of Bastick ahead of Cahill in midfield.

"The exclusion of Barry Cahill comes as a surprise as I always thought he would have been given the job of tracking Johnny Doyle who has been a sensation in his new role," Whelan said.

"Kildare's platform for victory recently was their dominance and use of possession in the middle third of the field and Cahill's defensive instincts would excel in curbing the influence of Doyle and his colleagues," he added.

"I'm also a bit baffled by Gilroy's team selection this weekend, it would appear that as the year is progressing he is moving back towards the core of the team that lost out to Cork in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

The Dublin boss insisted, however, his selection of championship rookie Conlon at corner-back and O'Gara ahead of forwards like Mossy Quinn who have had much more game-time this season, was not a "gamble."

"You have to go with the guys who are in form," Gilroy said. "I wouldn't have concerns about either of them and the amount of football they've played."

DUBLIN (SF v Kildare) -- S Cluxton; P Conlon, R O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, A Brogan, B Cullen (capt); D Connolly, E O'Gara, B Brogan.

Irish Independent